He's also led the first of three phases of moving some of the 451-bed hospital's patients to the new Simon Family Tower, which has involved the medical surgical unit and will incorporate the cancer center, neonatal intensive-care unit, burn unit, pediatric intensive care and emergency department by the time it is finished in 2013.
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Lee's leadership in bringing about such process and cash-flow improvements derives from his devotion to best-practice management concepts such as Lean and Six Sigma, in which he has received certification—and perhaps more important, from his passion to improve children's healthcare. And this work, at three of the nation's 12 largest children's hospitals, has earned him the 2011 Robert S. Hudgens Memorial Award for Young Healthcare Executive of the Year from the American College of Healthcare Executives.
“Kids' healthcare oftentimes can influence giving a child a chance at an entire lifetime, which is something that attracts a really unique group of individuals,” says Lee, 36, who began his career as a physical therapist and first found his passion for working with young people through adolescent sports medicine. “Everyone can resonate with the mission of a children's hospital. They know they're part of something bigger than themselves.”
Lee planned to work in adult physical therapy for his entire career before being recruited as a PT to Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, and “when I got into children's healthcare, it really got into my blood,” he says. “Once I got into the family, so to speak, I couldn't see myself doing anything else.”
He returned to 300-bed Cook Children's to complete his residency after receiving his graduate degree in healthcare administration at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He became a vice president at Cook Children's, leading an effort to triage the 70% of children who arrived at the emergency department with primary-care issues.
“We could have expanded capacity to address that,” Lee says. “But we really wanted to engage the community's pediatricians in taking an active role to address the issue.” Those patients who didn't have pediatricians and couldn't be assigned one for insurance reasons were directed to the network of community clinics in town.
Lee's administrative and leadership capabilities made it easy to convince executives at Cook Children's to hire him, says Russell Tolman, former president and CEO of the hospital who retired in 2007, and who served as Lee's preceptor.
“He has a great passion for pediatric healthcare. He's a person who, as a physical therapist, was noted for being able to help kids with his motivational skills and his interpersonal skills,” Tolman says. “He's a humble, decent, wonderful person, and he's a good, strong leader. He doesn't have the need to step out in front and take credit for everything.”
Those same skills and qualities served Lee well at 400-bed Children's Medical in Dallas, says Mark McLoone, former executive vice president and Lee's boss there, who is now CEO at Methodist Children's Hospital in San Antonio.
“He always treats people with respect,” McLoone says. “He has outstanding listening skills. He takes people's input seriously. Folks understand that, and they're inclined to work with him toward that kind of positive, collaborative outcome.”
In addition, he says, Lee's ability to analyze tangled processes such as those in the MRI and pharmacy departments at Children's Medical has improved throughput tremendously.
“He can use the analytic skills, but that doesn't lead to … the inability to make timely, decisive moves,” McLoone says. “He has confidence in his decisions. And he does it with compassion too. He has a family himself, and he's truly dedicated to what provides optimal outcomes to kids and serves the community well. He is the quintessential example of a servant-leader.”
Through the ACHE's mentorship program, Lee has served the healthcare management profession by giving back—as Tolman often reminded him he must.
“He always says, ‘I gave of my time and energy to develop you—now you owe it to the next generation of healthcare leaders,' ” Lee says. “I take that to heart.” Lee has served as preceptor for “at least 20” full-time residents at Cook and at Children's in Dallas and has participated in roundtables at ACHE events in Dallas-Fort Worth. “It was good to interact with young folks and see where they see their role,” he says.
Lee also has contributed by co-authoring a book called Growing Leaders in Healthcare: Lessons from the Corporate World (Healthcare Administration Press, 2009), which led to an ACHE leadership development course and other speaking opportunities.
“The book is a reflection on what are some of the best practices in industry, and how they can be applied to healthcare,” he says. “What are the concepts that will give you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of leadership development?”
Ed Finkel is a frequent contributor to Modern Healthcare. Contact him at [email protected]